Two entertaining middleweight scrappers will be duking it out this Wednesday night (February 15, 2012) as "The A-Train" Aaron Simpson takes on Ronny Markes on the main card of UFC on Fuel TV: "Sanchez vs. Ellenberger" in Omaha, Nebraska.
Simpson is currently riding his second three fight winning streak in the UFC. The former Arizona State All-American wrestler has been working his way back into relevance and a victory on the national stage during the UFC's debut on Fuel would do wonders for him.
Ronny Markes is a very intriguing prospect who's on the rise. After starting his career with a 12-1 record fighting mostly at light heavyweight, including a dominant decision victory in his UFC debut, he decided to drop down to 185 pounds simply because he thought he could do even better there. He'll get to prove what he's made of against an eight-fight UFC veteran next week.
Will Simpson continue his resurgent run back to the top of the UFC's middleweight division? Or will Markes derail "The A-Train?" How does each man earn a victory on Wednesday night in Omaha?
Let's find out:
Record: 11-2 overall, 7-2 in the UFC
How he got here: Aaron Simpson was a standout wrestler in high school and was a two-time All-American while competing at Arizona State in college. After graduating, he was the assistant wrestling coach at Arizona State for several years before getting a late start on a mixed martial arts career.
After crushing everyone on the local circuit, Simpson earned an invite to the WEC, where he knocked out David Avellan in just 18 seconds. When the UFC bought the WEC, they transferred over all the larger weightclasses and Simpson was included.
His UFC career got off to a very impressive start as well, dominating Tim McKenzie and Ed Herman and barely squeaking by Tom Lawlor in a "Fight of the Night"-winning performance. The Power MMA fighter had his momentum halted by the right hand of Chris Leben and then he was put in reverse by current contender Mark Munoz at UFC 123.
Since those back to back losses, Simpson has gone to his roots, wrestling and clinching his way to victories over Mario Miranda and Brad Tavares before turning Eric Schafer into a human punching bag at UFC 136. The 37 year old is expected to face a stiff test in Ronny Markes this Wednesday.
How he gets it done: Simpson needs to be cautious in this bout, as Markes is dangerous wherever this fight goes. After two fights to get his confidence back, it seemed he finally was ready to stand and trade again in his last fight with Eric Schafer, and he battered "Red" badly over the course of three rounds, nearly finishing the fight on multiple occasions.
If he's still got that same level of confidence, Simpson has the power in the stand-up department to trade with Markes and beat him there. Look for him to work his way into the pocket and throw some heavy shots, as "The A-Train" isn't much for jabs and set-ups in his strikes.
If the striking isn't working, The former All-American has got some terrific wrestling skills to fall back on. He'll try to work the power double and take the fight to the canvas, but if that doesn't work, as Markes showcased some solid takedown defense in his last fight, he might simply try to stall in the clinch. I don't expect to see Simpson do much damage whether he takes this fight to the ground or takes inside position along the fence, but he can definitely score points with the judges for being in a superior position.
Record: 12-1 overall, 1-0 in the UFC
Key Losses: none
How he got here: Ronny Markes, just 23 years old, has competed on three continents now in his first 13 fights. He competed in Europe early in his career, and then fought on a wide range of local shows in his native Brazil. After winning 10 of his first 11 fights, he was given the opportunity of a lifetime when he faced former WEC middleweight champion Paulo Filho at the International Fighter Championship.
Markes used a significant size and strength advantage to dominate the beleaguered Brazilian with top control, positional dominance and ground and pound over the course of three rounds to easily score a unanimous decision victory and really put his name on the map.
The Nova Uniao fighter was quickly scooped up by the UFC and made his debut against former heavyweight Karlos Vemola at UFC on Versus 5 last August. In that fight, Markes dominated Vemola in the clinch and with repeated takedowns to earn another unanimous decision. Surprisingly, after the fight, Markes announced he was dropping down to middleweight and after making the cut, he earned a shot against former top prospect Aaron Simpson.
How he gets it done: Markes is not the best striker, but a lot can change in six months especially when you're only 23 years old and training out of one of the most prestigious fight camps in the world. Despite the potential for growth, Markes most likely will be working to utilize his bread and butter, which is the clinch and takedowns.
That won't be easy against Aaron Simpson, who's a very strong and powerful wrestler, but Markes had his way with Karlos Vemola, a Czech national wrestling champion at light heavyweight, so he is very much full of surprises.
The Brazilian seems most at home near the fence, where he's terrific at controlling his opponent's movement and pinning them against a barrier. He's got some solid takedowns so don't be surprised if he can actually put Simpson on the ground. He's done it to much bigger men in the past and he can do it again.
Fight X-Factor: The biggest X-Factor for this fight, other than the 14 year age difference between the two fighters has to be the clinch. Both Simpson and Markes are very strong and utilize the clinch often if they need to take a breather, regain their wits, work for takedowns or simply tally up some points with the judges. Both men enjoy taking inside position and pinning their opponents against the fence so this might come down to who is stronger in the clinch and who can exert more pressure on their opponent. Something tells me Simpson would rather be standing and trading than clinching with Markes, but it might be difficult to throw down in the cage center if your opponent is constantly pushing you backwards towards the cage.
Bottom Line: This fight could be exciting, but there's also potential it could be a snoozefest. If either man can gain the upper hand, whether it's Simpson getting off with his punches in the pocket or Markes scoring a takedown and working ground and pound, this bout could be terrific. If neither fighter can gain an upperhand, there's also potential for there to be a huge stalemate both against the fence and on the ground. I see the possibility for multiple referee separations if that's the case. Hopefully both men are able to put on a show, but if they don't, don't say I didn't warn you.
Who will come out on at UFC on Fuel TV: "Sanchez vs. Ellenberger?" Tell us your predictions in the comments below!